Response to “Does Inbound Marketing Work in EVERY Business?”

Today’s guest post was originally a private email to me from Adam Zais at Wistia. He sent it in response to my “Does Inbound Marketing Work in EVERY Business?” post with the suggestion that it might be a good comment. I think that it’s a good post. Enjoy!


Rick asks an excellent question. I’d like to slightly modify his original short answer…


“Yes, but not in the same way.” (And yes Rick, I will talk about the customer too.)

Here’s my long answer, which includes some stories to make your reading fun and to better make the points.

b2c vs. b2b, online vs. bricks-and-mortar, local vs global, etcetera etcetera. There is an unlimited amount of comparatives to choose from. I’m going with a local restaurant and an enterprise software company (where I used to work, long long ago.) Yes, the concepts of inbound marketing work for both but, as I hope you will see, in very different ways.

My favorite restaurant is True Bistro in nearby Teele Square (Somerville, MA). It’s a vegan place. I eat a vegan diet. I eagerly watched their preparations to open, and I go there all the time. I Yelp about it, and tell everybody I know about it, and it even was featured in my bio in a former version of our website. How did they use inbound marketing to get me as a customer? Well, mostly they studied demographics to decide where a vegan restaurant was likely to succeed. Meaning, they asked questions like, “where are there vegans and how will they find us?” They weren’t thinking about me, specifically, in the least. When they chose their spot, they used a really clever inbound marketing technique….they put up a sign saying “amazing vegan restaurant opening soon!” (Oh, and they had their name on it too.) But they still didn’t know that I drove by the sign on my way to work every day. I tweeted about it, saying something like “there’s an amazing vegan restaurant opening soon!” #truebistro. I got a reply tweet back and the rest, as they say, is history. Inbound marketing? Sure, but a very different use of the concepts then my next story.

I used to work at an enterprise software company…MRP software to be precise. Back when ERP was actually called MRP. Mid-market. Crowded competitive landscape. HP minicomputer-based. Almost all customers were in North America. Boston HQ, 5 or 6 regional sales offices. Four-legged sales calls. Tough biz. So, the sales and marketing veep decides that he needs to get him some sales training to stimulate the team, spur growth, and mature processes. And he hires a leading (maybe THE leading) sales trainer guy of the day. The 4-day class opens with a presentation from the guy that goes just about exactly like this:

We’re all in a room at a local hotel. Nothing but an easel with a flip chart in the front of the room. The guy comes in, doesn’t say anything as he meaningfully gives us each “the eye” (to build suspense I guess), and then with a flourish turns over a bunch of pages on the flip chart to reveal a pie chart. Big circle with a single, smallish wedge drawn on it. (Mind you, he still hasn’t said anything.) Finally, he turns to the room, introduces himself, talks about all his experience and stuff, and then walks back to the flip chart and asks, “Does anybody know what this is?” Of course we all know it’s a pie chart but we’re all not dumb enough to shout out that answer. So, silence. He waits…perhaps a beat too long…and tells us that studies have shown that in any market only about 10% (yes, that was the value of the small slice of the pie) of the potential customers are actively looking for a product or service (he said “solution” of course) from vendors that target that market. Okay, we’re thinking, so what? He then gets really excited to inform us that he’s going to teach us sales techniques to attack the 90% of the people who aren’t actively looking for our product because (he’s getting pretty wound up at this point mind you) that’s a far bigger audience and we all want to kill our quotas and stuff, right!?!?!? So, we’re all dutifully getting wound up ourselves and pounding the desks and shouting and whooping and….well, not really, but sort of and quietly to ourselves. The VP was pretty excited though. Anyway, it wasn’t until years later that I realized what an utter load of crap this was. (I bet you all can see where this is going now.) You’re all probably asking, “Why the hell would you do anything but try to figure out a way for the people actively looking for your product or service to find you?” Okay, I know you want me to wrap this up. Point is, the sales training should have been all about inbound marketing. But in fairness, this was before the Internet so that message would have been really hard to hear. (Oh, you want to know what happened? Nothing really. The sales were just as hard, the forecast was just as inaccurate, and yet the sales trainer got paid.)

So, how does all this relate back to the what we asked at the beginning? And how does this relate to the customer, as I promised you and Rick I would do?

Well, in the first example True Bistro employed inbound marketing principles BEFORE entering the market. Once in the market, they focus on social media as the main driver of their inbound marketing approach. In the second example, and if time-travel were possible, the company would employ inbound marketing principles AFTER entering the market. And, they would be focusing on search as the main driver of their inbound marketing approach.

But despite the differing manner of employing an inbound marketing strategy, I disagree (politely) with Rick. I believe it works for EVERY customer of every business. The tools and techniques may be different, but it definitely works.

Send all complaints, disagreements, flames, etc. to Rick.

Happy selling…I mean…inbounding. Peace.

Adam Z


BTW, you can talk with Adam, Rick and a bunch of other folks any Thursday at this on line meeting. Come on by.
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9 thoughts on “Response to “Does Inbound Marketing Work in EVERY Business?”

  1. Not sure what the “ugh” meant. But I think you’re making my point Peter. I too believe that it is applicable to any biz. And, I’m definitely saying that “market research” is central to inbound marketing. Finally, I couldn’t agree with you more about sales training. My example is of how it can go so horribly wrong!

  2. Adam- Two good examples. I believe that inbound marketing DOES work for every business. To say, “But my business is different.” is short sighted.ps. MRP? You don’t look old enough to remember that.

  3. Hey Don. LOL. Yup, first job out of college. Even got APICS cert. Actually met Ollie Wight! I’m really “the most interesting man in the world”….not that Dos Equis drinkin’ fool. 🙂

  4. I look at inbound as the evolution of sales. Call it marketing or whatever…it’s just a better way to bring faster & more revenue to your business. And as a lifelong sales guy, I love that.

    Now, while it can work for everyone, it will impact businesses at varying percentages.

    Inbound can’t be 100% of revenue generation for all companies.

    What I’d like to see is a matrix of types of companies and the most effective Sales/marketing mix for each.

    Maybe selling million dollar IT security to enterprise may be only 10% inbound…while video analytics dashboards could be 90%.

    Makes sense?

  5. Happy Halloween everyone! And I hope everyone survived Sandy no worse for the wear. I think Kyle’s comments hit the nail squarely on the head. I too believe that we’re in the midst of an evolutionary shift in BOTH marketing and sales. See, I don’t like to make a big distinction between the words / jobs “sales” and “marketing” as much as I want to point out the more important distinctions: good vs. bad, or inbound vs. outbound, or working vs. not working.Earlier, Peter from HubSpot pointed to their definition of Inbound Marketing. And I quote, “Inbound marketing is marketing that’s useful. It means acquiring customers by attracting and nurturing prospects with exceptional content, data and customer service, not interrupting them with spam. It means pulling prospects in with a magnet, not beating them over the head with a sledgehammer.”I believe that contained within this definition are far more universal concepts (dare I say, truths?) that can, and need, to be applied far more broadly. In fact, across the entire spectrum of interaction, human or digital, between any organization and its clients, customers, partners, channels, patients, patrons, members, fans, observers, and yes…even prospects.Now, I fully understand why he and HubSpot view this through the lens of marketing. They’re in the marketing automation software biz, and they coined the term in the first place. But that does not mean that the fundamental concepts can’t be applied to sales as Kyle suggests. If a marketing department can evolve to be more effective, successful, efficient, and better by employing these principles then I argue that so can a sales department.I’ll go even further. Sales MUST evolve in this direction or risk becoming irrelevant or worse…extinct. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. I truly think that this is a life or death issue for sales. Kyle, I understand where you were trying to go with your idea of a “sales/marketing mix”. But I would argue that a better and more evolved way of thinking about this (after all, we’re talking about the “inbound effect” here) is to instead use different terms. How about “indirect” versus “direct”? Or, “digital engagement” vs. “human engagement”? My thought is that the words “marketing” and “sales” simply have too much baggage. This idea is something we’ve put into place here at Wistia. We don’t use the word sales as a descriptor of roles or work product. We use customer happiness. Ok, a bit silly perhaps. But I submit that it is crucial driver of how do things. I guess what I’m saying is that every company’s revenues are what they are. Meaning, whatever the number, its 100%. A company either completely embraces the fundamental ideas of this inbound movement or they don’t. Doing the inbound thing in marketing and not in sales is just stupid. Sure, some products / services are going to demand more work that we currently call sales than others. But it better be in an inbound style whatever the case.

  6. Well said, Kyle. I agree 100% that sales teams need to learn how to be more helpful. But, I don’t think it’s just because “that’s what prospects want”. I think it because it leads to higher connect rates, which in our sales funnel has lead to higher close rates. Agreed with Kyle that in companies where the sale is transactional or even ‘self service’, like Wistia’s, customer service is the new sales team. And in SaaS companies, a combination of training, consulting and customer services is the key to retention. Of course, content plays a key role in training and consulting, and in low cost SaaS products, it is the key driver of retention. You’ll probably see us revise our methodology over the next year to be more inclusive of what you’re talking about. What really “ugghs” me, though, is when people say that “SEO” or social media is inbound marketing. That’s only a small piece of it.

  7. It probably “ugghs” you the same way that I get “ugghed” when somebody suggests that sales tricks, special closes or a new 12 step program is all that you need to know to be a better salesperson.

    Great discussion guys. Adam, thanks for the post.

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